The Natural Path – Impacts of Screen Time: How to Cultivate Healthy Habits

by Dr. Marita Schauch, ND, Tall Tree Integrated Health Centre – 

As the summer fun winds down, there may be some rising anticipation in parents for the “Back to School” transition from all the summer activities to more time on screens.

It is becoming more widely known that screen time has adverse effects on everyone’s health, no matter your age. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why:

The Impacts of Screens:
• May negatively affect the brain, limiting capacity for reasoning and critical thinking.
• Limits development by creating a tunnel vision for technology and lack of awareness and opportunity to learn through external environment.
• Limits language development as children benefit from a face-to-face reciprocal conversation rather than a passive experience with a screen.
• Affects circadian rhythm and sleep quality.
• Encourages sedentary behaviour.

Here are some of my screen managing tips for families:

Screen-Free Meal Time. Eating in front of the TV creates unhealthy habits as it disconnects us from the food on our plate and how our bodies feel when we are eating. It lowers our metabolism and may also lead to indigestion. Meal time is a great time to connect and bond with each other, rather than focusing on our individual screens.

Include Everyone. Including kids in daily tasks – such as helping make dinner, setting the table or tidying up – rather than using a screen to distract helps to invite a shared responsibility and engagement in daily life and face-to-face tasks and activities.

Encourage Physical Activity and Play time. Depending on the day at school, sometimes kids are tired and need to rest and decompress. In these instances, I recommend suggesting restful play or reading options for your kids, rather than screen time. On those days where there is still excess energy that needs to be released, encourage more active play, creative or physical activities rather than sitting in front of the TV.

Use Parental Controls. Parental controls can be used to limit the types of searches, apps and games that kids can access. Parental controls can also allow a time limit to be set on devices and apps and are also a handy way to set the limit of time per day on the screen.

60-Minute Bedtime Rule. It is becoming more widely understood that screens before bed inhibit our quality of sleep. Blue light raises our cortisol levels and limits our melatonin production. To encourage better sleep, turn screens off at least 60 minutes before bedtime. The earlier, the better.

Be a Good Role Model. Kids learn through their environment and imitate their role models and caregivers. Their relationship to technology is dependent on what is modelled to them. Remember that your healthy screen habits will directly influence them!

Wherever you find yourself in your family’s relationship to screen time, don’t forget to choose your battles wisely – every moment is an opportunity to teach and model good boundaries with technology and at the same time, do go easy on yourself. I wish you good luck in cultivating healthy habits for you and your kids, and an easeful transition back to school schedules.

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